When non-human animals are used to carry out experiments, this is known as animal testing. Statistics indicate that on an annual basis between 50 and 100 million animals are used in different animal experiments (Roggeband, York, Pericoi & Braun, 2000, p. 728). The cosmetic industry is known to use inhumane methods of animal testing as a means of assessing different products. Animal testing is one subject that has remained highly controversial for a long time now. Several issues have been raised following the widespread use of animals for research purposes by the cosmetic industry. To start with, there is the issue of humanness and ethics regarding the poisoning of animals on purpose (Roggeband et al 728). Secondly, there is the issue of decorum (or lack of it) that is associated with harming animals with the sole intention of marketing either a household product or a new cosmetic. The issue of the use of data obtained from animal tests to humans has also been raised, along with the prospect of saving the lives of millions of animals that are used for tests by the cosmetic industry through the development of alternative forms of testing cosmetic products.
Even as leading organizations within the cosmetic industry have for long relied upon animals as a means of testing for their products, this is a move that has received strong opposition from animal rights activists. Whereas advocates for animal testing by the cosmetic industry think that this is an exercise that would help alleviate potential side effects if used on human subjects as opposed to the test animals, animal rights activities on the other hand argue that how these tests are administered to the animal is cruel. Accordingly, animal testing by the cosmetic industry is a cruel activity that needs to be stopped.
Animal testing by the cosmetic industry: for and against
In the United States, animal testing by the cosmetic industry dates back to 1933. This was after a woman had gone blind when she applied mascara (Roggeband et al 727). As a result, the FDCA (Food, Drug, and Cosmetic) Act was passed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 1938. It is the responsibility of manufacturers in the United States to ensure that consumers access safe products for their use (Sharpe 142). Animal testing by the cosmetic industry is not an explicit requirement by the FDA although historically, the agency has been known to utilize data on animal toxicity as a yardstick for the settlement of issues that have to do with the safety of cosmetics ingredients and products.
Different practices are involved in the animal testing exercise for the cosmetic industry. These include having an already finished cosmetic product tested on animals, or ingredients (or a combination of these) testing on animals. For a majority of the companies that are known to test cosmetic ingredients and products on animals, the argument is that there is the likelihood that a dangerous accident might take place should the already finished product enter into humans’ eyes, or they ingest these (Sharpe 142). In this case, such tests as acute toxicity tests, eye irritancy tests, as well as skin irritancy tests, are administered on animals.
It is important to note that animal testing by the cosmetics industry as a way of assessing how safe the ingredients and products made by the cosmetic companies are to human consumers is a very controversial issue. According to the research findings of a study on animal testing, it was revealed that the Draize test “grossly over-predicted the effects that could be seen in the human eye,” (Roggeband et al 729). Accordingly, the author concluded that the test “does not reflect the eye irritation hazard for man” (Roggeband et al 729). Separately, Sharpe (1985 142) revealed that the result yielded by the ‘Draize eye irritancy test’ is somewhat intrinsically unpredictable in forecasting toxicity in humans.
Scientists have for a long time been divided on whether the level of pain that is felt by animals is different from that felt by humans. Whereas some have thought that animals are without consciousness and for that reason, may not experience pain, others have been opposed to this argument. In this respect, the “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” has endeavored to classify factors governing the testing of animals within the United States. According to this guide, “The ability to experience and respond to pain is widespread in the animal kingdom…Pain is a stressor and, if not relieved, can lead to unacceptable levels of stress and distress in animals” (Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources 64). This guide further indicates that the variation in terms of pain recognition ability across species becomes important if at all pain relief is to be applied efficiently.
Animal rights activists argue that testing animals is a source of discomfort to them, and therefore an inhumane method of handling animals. There is also the issue of the death of these animals, not to mention the extrapolation problems of the different species. Animals are conscious beings and for this reason, it is important to treat them with equality. In addition, there is a need to ensure that laws are put in place to protect them from atrocities that characterize animal experimentation (Kimmel124). Animals, as sentient beings, deserve equality and to be protected from these types of atrocities. In essence what this implies is that if at all an animal experiences pain during the experimentation exercise, then this pain should matter the same way it would if at all human subjects were to be used as guinea pigs. In this regard, it is the position of animal rights activists that the form of suffering and pain experienced should not rely on the nature of the species subjected to them.
On their part, companies dealing with cosmetics have defended the use of animal tests based on several potential benefits. To start with, these companies argue that by testing their ingredients and products on animals, they are out to protect the safety and health of humans, who are the actual consumers of these products. The main reason behind the animal tests, the companies argue, is to help the cosmetic industry prove beyond any reasonable doubt that indeed their products are safe (Kimmel 126). Furthermore, cosmetic companies have argued that animal tests offer them a competitive advantage relative to their competitors. Through animal tests, cosmetic companies opine that when their ingredients and products are tested on animals, this is one way of preserving the environment. Several cosmetic companies have also argued that due to the high amount of pressure that the consumers have been subjecting them to in ensuring that their products are both improved and safe, they have had to resort to animal testing.
The use of animal testing by cosmetic companies also has disadvantages. To start with, the tested animals are often subjected to severe allergic reactions. Furthermore, cosmetic testing has been noted to result in swollen eyelids of the tested animal, liver problems, bleeding, and ulceration. Moreover, it is also regarded as an inhumane way of animal treatment (Kolar 173). Critics have also argued that the fine blood vessels in animals are characterized by a distribution network that is quite different from that in humans. Moreover, there is also a difference in terms of the skin reaction noted in animals, and that in humans. Accordingly, it may be necessary to find other forms of cosmetic testing. The issue of cost has also come up, with critics contending that animal testing is an exercise that is quite expensive. The consumer ends up paying for this high cost of testing because the price of the final product has to factor in research and development costs. Based on the above arguments, critics contend that there is a need to embrace alternative methods of testing cosmetic products, as opposed to the use of animals. Some of the alternatives that could be explored include tissue cultures, cell cultures, as well as refined computer models.
The question of whether animals should be used for the testing of cosmetic products is an issue that has been riddled with controversy for a long time. Even as companies in the cosmetic industry have argued that the main reason why they rely on animal testing for their ingredients and products is to ensure that the safety and health of the consumers are guaranteed, nevertheless the method has been touted as being inhumane to the animals by animal rights activists and critics alike. Further, these critics argue that the cosmetics companies have been seen to report increased revenues year-in-year-out, as the number of animals dedicated to experimentation increases. The fact that there are other methods of testing cosmetic products that do not involve animals is an indication that the cosmetic companies have become used to the old method of testing for so long that letting it go is proving hard.
The position of government and scientists is that animal testing needs to be done in such a manner as to result in the least possible form of suffering for the animal in question. In addition, the exploration of other means of testing products needs to be given priority. This principle entails the reduction in terms of the number of animals that are used to obtain the needed scientific information. Secondly, replacement means opting for testing methods that do not use animal methods whenever possible, as long as the desirable scientific aim can be attained. Finally, refinement means those techniques that reduce suffering, distress, or potential pain, and at the same time increase the welfare of animals (Kolar 172). Cosmetic companies should therefore endeavor to find alternative means of testing their ingredients and products that would ideally a replacement to animal testing, while at the same time ensuring that the safety and health concerns of their consumers are addressed.
Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 1996.
Kimmel, Allan J. Ethical Issues in Behavioral Research. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Kolar, Roman. “ECVAM: desperately needed or superfluous? An animal welfare perspective”. Altern Lab Anim (2002): 169–74.
Roggeband, R, York, M, Pericoi, M & Braun, W. “Eye Irritation Responses in Rabbit and Man After Single Applications of Equal Volumes of Undiluted Model Liquid Detergent Products,” Food and Chemical Toxicology, 38 (2000): 727-734.
Sharpe, R. The Draize test—motivations for change. Food and Chemical Toxicology, (1985): 139-143.